What is polyarthritis?

Polyarthritis is a term used when five or more joints are affected with joint pain. There are many potential causes, so symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

Polyarthritis can present as acute episodes or it may become chronic, lasting for more than six weeks. Polyarthritis can follow many viral infections. It may evolve into a specific type of autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Sjogren’s syndrome. However, usually it resolves and does not recur.

There are many different causes for polyarthritis, such as:

See your doctor if you think you have joint pain and swelling. Doctors will typically describe joint symptoms as polyarthritis if a person has arthritis symptoms in at least five joints.

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order blood tests and X-rays or an ultrasound of the joints.

Your doctor will look for inflamed joints, tenderness, and swelling. They will also look for symmetric or asymmetric patterns of pain. Symmetric pain is when arthritis symptoms develop on both sides of the body. For example, people with RA often experience symptoms in both hands. People with psoriatic arthritis often experience asymmetrical symptoms, so they may have symptoms in one knee, for example.

Your doctor will also look for:

  • rashes
  • skin nodules
  • sore throat (pharyngitis)
  • lymph node swelling
  • swelling in lower extremities


Treatment for polyarthritis involves managing symptoms and reducing inflammation. Your doctor may recommend the following medications to reduce pain:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: Commonly referred to as NSAIDs, these drugs reduce inflammation and relieve pain by blocking enzymes and proteins that contribute to inflammation.

Corticosteroids: These drugs reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune response. Corticosteroids are particularly helpful if you have polyarthritis as a result of an autoimmune disease.

Hydroxychloroquine: This is a mild immune modulator drug that decreases inflammation.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs: Abbreviated as DMARDs, these drugs also suppress the immune system. DMARDs would be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, if subsequently diagnosed.

Anti-TNF drugs: These drugs suppress inflammation and would be used if DMARDs alone were not effective in treating pain from rheumatoid arthritis or Still’s disease.

Over-the-counter medications: Topical medications can help relieve symptoms and can be purchased at your local drug store. These include:

  • diclofenac sodium (Voltaren)
  • diclofenac (Pennsaud)
  • Aspercreme
  • Arnica
  • capsacin supplements

Home remedies

Stretching, swimming, and other forms of exercise can also be helpful in treating symptoms of polyarthritis. Warm baths and warming mits may also help manage pain caused by arthritis.

When it comes to polyarthritis, determining the cause is key for getting proper treatment and reducing symptoms. Diagnosing an infectious cause or autoimmune condition and excluding any possibility of an underlying cancer is important, as well. Because this symptom can be the result of a number of causes, it’s important to work with your healthcare professional to understand the underlying cause of your joint pain.